Friday, December 26, 2014

Deep Stax: My Favorite Music of 2014

I seem to say this every year, but I listened to ALOT of music this year. Maybe it's the fact I finally accepted the viable and gratifying vehicle of online distribution for new music, making it easily consumable. I think this is the first year in m life when I didn't buy a single cd. YouTube, Spotify and Pandora opened up whole new worlds of music for me while my own resurgance with vinyl as a musical medium not only got me buying LP's again, but also prompted me to fill in the gaps of my already pretty large record collection with odd Van Morrison and Neil Young selections. I feel comfortable doing a music list now, sampling a wide variety of highly noted releases that have consistently cropped up on other 'best of' lists from worthy publications and online friends. My only conclusion- there's a lot of awful music out there as well that has people doing cartwheels that I just don't get. Regardless, that's what makes us unique as individuals and consumers.

10. Jessy Lanza- Hyperdub

Vocalist Jessy Lanza is new to me. I don't usually fall for this level of pop, but the hyperdub retuning of certain songs feels like an awesome throwback to the 80's. Her song "Strange Emotion" is a show stopper and the entire album is full of unique surprises and small miracles.

9. From Indian Lakes- Absent Sounds

Another introduction this year was Northwestern area band From Indian Lakes. Gaining acclaim when singer/songwriter Joey Vannuchi utilized MySpace (remember that!) to introduce some of his songs in 2009, the band formed soon after. “Absent Sounds”, their second album, lapses a bit into pop and even old-school ‘emo’ at times, yet its commitment to strong lyrics and a full sound won me over and had me playing it continuously throughout the year.

8. Interstellar soundtrack- Hans Zimmer

At least one soundtrack grabs hold of my senses each year, and this time it was Hans Zimmer with his "Interstellar" soundtrack. Yes, there was plenty of caterwaling about the sound mix during early scrennings of the film, but I heard none of this on any of my three trips to the theater in experiencing Nolan's masterpiece- even in IMAX. Zimmer's score is loud at times, but it never dulled the emotion of the film or its dialogue, instead creating a resonant and enveloping accentuation to the film.

7. Mogwai- Rave Tapes

Honestly at this point in the game, there's probably not a Mogwai release I won't love. Their latest, "Rave Tapes" doesn't break any new ground, but it carries on their tradition of low-fil chill and full post-rock sound that's made them famous.

6. Strands of Oak- Heal

As Strands of Oak, singer-songwriter Tim Showalter assembled a minimal supergroup, including Dinosaur Jr guitarist J Mascis, and put together this album. At its core, "Heal" is another brilliant confessional by a hugely talented songwriter (like Matthew Houck and "Phospherence" last year) that doesn't play by the rules of established 'groupdom', choosing to stitch together talented people whenever possible and almost guerilla produce their intentions. "Heal" succeeds on every account.

5. Sun Kil Moon- Benji

Talk about tortured confessional. Sun Kil Moon's (real name Mark Kozelek) sixth album under that nomenclature reaches intimate heights. "Benji" blazes through a range of staggered emotions, such as when he sings about the various deaths of family members by spontaneous combustion or the way the death of his grandmother elicited laughter in him due to the pent up stress. The album is honest and painful in ways that most music simply avoids.

4. Beck- Morning Phase

All I can say about Beck is that between this album and 2002's "Sea Change", he's quietly become the slacker Willie Nelson. We always need slacker Willie Nelsons.

3. Ought- More Than Any Other Day

A punk band that sounds like a cross between The Violent Femmes and Sonic Youth is the most apt description I can imagine for Ought. Their debut album is a packed swerve through a variety of sounds.... made all the more impressive when I read they created the album by just grooving in the studio and molding songs out of that improvisation. I look forward to whatever they create next.

2. The Afghan Whigs- Do the Beast

As a fan of the Afghan Whigs since I discovered thir landmark 1993 album "Gentleman" way back in the day, "Do the Beast" is the most happy reunion in ages. Leader/frontman Greg Dulli has always pissed around with various other groups, never straying too far from the Whigs patent sound, but "Do the Beast" is something special. There's a concept here as songs bleed into one another and lyrics repeat themselves in different songs. It also feels like an album from somewhere deep in the band, wandering around in the musical world for so long and finding their place together again.

1. The Antlers- Familiars

"Hospice" and "Burst Apart" hovered near the very top of my favorites in their respective years as The Antlers continually create transcendetal music. With "Familiars", they've outdone themselves, infusing each and every song with heartbreak, doubt and a strong sense of memory that feels like one can picture the people and places they sing about. When Peter Silberman says "well you're already home but you don't know where to find it. It's not a house we remember but a feeling outside it when everyone's gone and we leave the lights on anyway...." the magnitude of going home never felt so prescient. It's a towering masterpiece.

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